Feather River Brewing Company – Tapping Into Smooth Flavor
By Debra Hasbrouck
I rarely find a beer that appeals to both my husband’s fondness for full-bodied flavor and my requirement for smooth taste. So I was pleased to discover a local micro- brewery that seems to have achieved that delicate balance for refreshing mellow flavor. Roger Preecs, master brewer of Feather River Brewing Company, calls it “drinkability” and it’s the foundation of his brewing process.
It’s a method that has achieved impressive results. The brewery has received many awards over the years, including “Best Beer of the 2007 Chico Brewfest” and the “People’s Choice Award” at the 2002 and 2003 California Festival of Beers. Most recently, Feather River Brewing Company gained recognition at the 2014 Los Angeles International Beer Competition, winning a gold medal for their Honey Ale and a bronze for their Dark Canyon Ale.
During a recent tour of the small, unique brewery, Roger Preecs said, “So many things just fell into place, bringing me to where I am today.” He paused and smiled. “Craft brewing is what I was meant to do.” His journey began in 1986 after Roger first observed the brewing process and attended the “Woodson Bridge Home Brewing Competition” between Chico and Red Bluff. He was instantly hooked and went home to build his own five-gallon brewing system. Roger already possessed a preference for German style beer, stating, “It was less bitter than English ale and had more flavor than most American brands.” He was determined to develop his own version of flavorful, yet smooth beer.
After doing a little research and receiving some advice from a friend’s home-brewing uncle, Roger was prepared to make his first batch.
He laughed, “It turned out pretty good, and we quickly consumed all of it.”
The third batch he made was the “Honey Ale,” a recipe he still uses today. By the time Roger completed his fourth batch he was ready to enter the Woodson Bridge contest, winning first place with his “Pine Mountain Ale.”
He was able to set up a fifteen-gallon brewing system when his friend’s uncle gave Roger some of his old equipment. Roger did a lot of experimenting in those early days, making a different beer every month and learning what each ingredient did to the end result. He continued to attend the Woodson Bridge competition and won first place for the next four years.
Roger speaks of his passion for craft brewing as a creative blend of art and science. “The art has always been more important to me, but I needed to know the science, especially when a batch didn’t turn out right.”
Eventually, Roger built his own little brewery in the small foothill town of Magalia. Working after hours from his regular job in Chico, the project took almost five years to complete. His design allows him to brew efficiently with limited labor and his “super insulation” helps to save resources.
In the beginning, Roger even made his own ceramic tap handles. He reconditioned old machinery and converted a stainless tank into his mash tun (mashing is when the barley malt is added to heated water and the natural enzymes from the grain convert the starch into sugars.)
“I repurposed just about any stainless steel that I could find.”
He purchased a World Tandem Labeler built in the 1930’s from the boneyard of a canning factory and bought a Meheen bottling machine from a scrap yard in Placerville. After bringing life back to the old machinery, he set up his bottling line, but is currently limited to twenty-two ounce bottles.
Feather River Brewing Company crafted its first batch in 2000, creating a product true to the original goal of a beer that was “full bodied, with the right balance of barley malt and hops, for plenty of flavor without being bitter.”
Roger added, “It’s a detailed process. Even with the right proportions, if the hops boil too long they will lose flavor, but retain bitterness.”
Instead of filtering his ales, Roger uses gelatin to clarify them. He prefers this method, stating, “I think our unfiltered ales retain some value from the fresh ingredients used and I want a beer that doesn’t mess with you.”
Originally they only sold beer to local restaurants and bars, with Roger delivering kegs during his lunch hour. Last summer the brewery went through twenty- five kegs every two weeks for weddings and special events. Roger explained that one batch of beer produces six kegs and forty-five cases, containing twelve 22-ounce bottles each.
Currently they offer three products: Raging Rapids Ale, which has a light, crisp flavor and is my favorite. Honey Ale, that Roger says “Is hard to classify but could be called a blonde ale with German accents.” Dark Canyon Ale is a seasonal beer, although Roger remarked, “It’s a dark that you can easily drink in summer.”
Roger Preecs gives brewery tours by appointment only. He prefers to make reservations by phone at 530-873-0734.
. Kegs can be ordered over the phone. You can also find them on Facebook. Visit them online at http://www.featherriverbrewing.com/